Our "Classic Rotation" series revisits classic albums on the anniversary of their release. Today we take a look at MF Doom & Madlib's classic album, "Madvillainy", which dropped ten years ago, on March 23rd 2004.
On certain occasions obscure and experimental sounds explode into something extraordinary. An explosion that is heard from far away, from one end of their genre to the other, even spilling over into other disciplines, effecting everyone from A to Z with their creative ooze. Too much? Perhaps. To not overstate, however, it would be sheer madness if we slept on one of the most underrated hip-hop albums for a second time. Now all you crate digging, weed smoking, comic book reading, jazz sample loving, mask wearing, Stones Throw Records reppin, music lovers, rejoice. It’s been ten years since MF DOOM and Madlib dropped their instant classic. Now dust off that vinyl, because today we celebrate Madvillain’s 2004 release, Madvillainy.
This super group of obscure sampling and bombastic rhyming didn’t come to fruition overnight. Both Madlib and MF DOOM entered this union as established heavyweights of the underground scene. Madlib had worked his way up through the LA underground scene, catching the eye of Peanut Butter Wolf, eventually signing with Stones Throw. He would find critical acclaim on both of his Quasimoto albums, Shades of Blue, and his collaboration with Dilla, Jaylib (among others). MF DOOM had been around since the late 80’s, signed to Elektra records with the group KMD under the moniker Zev Love X. His brother, DJ, and Band mate, DJ Subroc died in the early 90’s sending him into exile in Atlanta. Here he would eventually rise with a series of underground successes under the name MF DOOM (now equipped with his metal Mask). Their collaborative effort Madvillainy would be released on Stones Throw Records on March 23, 2004. The album garnered huge amounts of critical acclaim, receiving positive reviews from everyone both inside and out of the realm of Hip Hop. Despite the reviews however, the album didn’t reach the numbers it deserved. It peaked at only 179 on the US 200 billboard chart. That being said, it’s lackluster numbers in no way indicate the impact the album had in the world of Hip Hop and beyond.
Short tracks, a lack of anything resembling form or structure, and a keen manipulation of residual production equipment, allowed Madvillainy to transcend genres and make a strong impact on the industry. The album begins with a series of samples bringing the listener into the bizzaro world of the two evil masterminds behind the tracks. We enter straight into “Accordion”, a turn up the base, Daedalus sampled hit that would eventually be reworked by both Four Tet and Flying Lotus. “Meat Grinder” is up next, followed by “Raid” Featuring MED, both allowing DOOM to stretch out his lyrical legs, the latter over a sped-up sample of “Nardis” by the Bill Evans trio. Madlib then demands every head pay respect to his craft with “America’s Most Blunted”. An insane beat with samples from no less then four records, daring any MC to even try to rap over it. MF DOOM and Quasimoto slay it like the metaphysical dragon the hazy weed filled track conjures up. “It’s a known fact that grass increases creativity from 8 to 11 times”, claims the announcer on a bizarre sample at the end of the song, and after hearing that track, one would have to agree.
The comical, yet oddly insightful, lyrical barrage continues on down the track list. “Money Folder”, which was created from various samples from the 1935 film “The Raven” has DOOM delivering brilliant, ADHD’esque lines such as “Egads, he got enough styles to start three fads – True dat, she bad, I wonder do she come with knee pads“. Right after Lord Quas comes to battle, Madlib and him spitting over the heavy ”Space is the Place” film sampled “Shadows of Tomorrow”. Due to the short length of the tracks, and the abundance of them (20 in total), the album gives the listener the impression that he/she is enduring a full scale sensory attack. Seemingly, this is exactly what the villains are going for. “Strange Ways”, probably the most serious track on the album, is chalk full of gritty truths brought forth by the man in the mask. “They pray four times a day, they pray five. Who ways is strange when it’s time to survive”, a lyric that rings so true, on so many levels, it seems almost out of place on the bouncy soulful track. Yet nothing seems out of reach or out of context on an album such as this. Every track on the entire record could be reviewed and dissected until nausea (with blunt in hand, of course). “ALL CAPS”, a great tune referring to MF’s names sake has to be mentioned as one of the most accessible songs on the album. Equipped with a great music video, and a ridiculous piano roll, it would later be jacked by Earl Sweatshirt for his song “Deerskin” on Earl Part II: Road to Doris.
Despite this praise-laden article, this album is certainly not for everyone. Certain Hip Hop purists will hate on it. Love it or hate it however, one cannot deny it’s creativity, originality and impact. Any aspiring artist who has ever picked up an SP 303, 404, Akai, MPC, looped a tape, searched for hours through dusty records, or spent days on end in a studio can deeply appreciate what this record has accomplished. Who would think an MC in a gladiator mask, and a producer who altered his voice to create his partner in rhyme (Quasimoto is Madlib if you didn’t know), would spill over into the mainstream? They would work with the likes of Ghostface, Freddy Gibbs, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Wu Tang, Joey Badass and many others. So please ladies and gentlemen, put your praise for the heroes on hold. Today we pay our respects to the villains.